You have to respect the ad agency that recommended the AFLAC duck.

by: Charles Gaiennie on

This week we had sales reps from AFLAC stop in to share the benefits of their insurance plans for our growing company. They were professional and very helpful, and we may take a look at their products. Please don't tell them this, but what really stood out to me during their presentation was that big, white duck.


As they flipped through their presentation binder I just couldn't help but focus on the duck — that silly bird that has become the iconic symbol of AFLAC. While the duck is now well established as the symbol of the company, as a marketing guy who regularly makes recommendations on company branding, it made me reflect on the courage and vision of the agency that stood up before the executive management of AFLAC to make a recommendation of a duck  as the brand in an industry known for its conservatism and status-quo mentality.


Here's the picture in my mind...


Ad agency: "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time today as we set the course for what will be the public identity for your company."


(stone face stares)


Ad agency continues: "In developing your new brand, we have carefully considered the leadership position that AFLAC has earned in the market and the vision of its executives who have brought us to this moment."


(nods of self-approval).


Ad agency readies for the big moment: "And now, your new brand!"


(pulls the drape off the easel to reveal - a duck)



(stunned silence)


Did it go down like this?  Who knows?  But the point is that suggesting a duck as the leading image of an insurance company had to take guts.


This leads me to the observation that in branding and communications the message is ultimately not about you but rather what the market remembers about you. For AFLAC, we are pretty sure that a duck has little to do with the insurance industry. Had the ad agency followed the safe route, AFLAC would likely be an also-ran insurance company doing business as American Family Life Insurance of Columbus (pardon the yawn). Instead, they are busy touting their climb to the 125th spot on the Fortune 500. Maybe the duck was a good idea after all.


So when it comes to branding, have a little backbone. You just never know where it might lead you.

© Copyright The W.L. Gaiennie Company 2016